Investing on a Whiff: Chemical spray shows power as trust booster

12:42pm, June 1, 2005

Some people smell fear in potential business partners. Others smell a rat. But individuals who smell a certain brain hormone become unusually trusting of others in financial transactions, according to a new report.

Men who inhale a nasal spray spiked with oxytocin give more money to partners in a risky investment game than do men who sniff a spray containing no active ingredient, say economist Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich and his colleagues.

Previous studies of nonhuman animals had suggested that oxytocin in the brain encourages long-term mating in pairs of adults and nurturing behaviors by mothers toward their offspring. This substance, which works as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, fosters the trust needed for friendship, love, families, economic transactions, and political networks, Fehr proposes.

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